Manager / Director:
Lafayette F. Harrison
Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
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29 November 2017
“The orchestra will be under the direction of Theodore Thomas, who is a decided improvement upon Mr. Ritter.”
“Steinway Hall tonight. Second ev’g of the ‘Musical Festival.’ Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D. Third movement very strong - like Beethoven in ruffles and a bag-wig. ‘Let the bright seraphim’ (Mme. Parepa-Rosa)--exquisitely sung. But it is clap-trap were it fifty times Handel’s work. Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony produced here for the first time. Its second movement--a sort of scherzo--is delicious, but what it has to do with the Reformation I cannot guess. Is it meant to convey the spirit of the Epist: Obra Vivorum or of the popular songs of the period. ‘The Pope that Pagan full of pride’ for instance? All the rest of the symphony seems bosh. Being mostly allegro scratch-cattuoso, it may be supposed to refer to a contest, or struggle, and as bits of ‘ein feste Burg ist Unser Gott’ are introduced, the struggle in question is identified with that of the 16th century. The substitution of a phrase or two from the Marseillaise would make it a French Revolution Symphony. With a souvenir of ‘Dixie’ or of ‘John Brown’s body lies a moulderin’ in the ground,’ it would pass for a grand ‘Rebellion’ Symphony. Mendelssohn must have known he was attempting something essentially outside his Art. After this I came home, for nobody offered me fifty dollars to stay and listen to Berlioz’s ‘Dramatic Symphony--Romeo and Juliet’, and I would not undergo that majestic work for a cent less.”
“Steinway Hall was fairly filled last night on the occasion of the second performance of the grand musical festival. Madame Parepa-Rosa was the only soloist, the rest of the programme consisting of orchestral music. She sang ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ and ‘The Bird and the Maiden,’ two of the best selections from the works of Handel and Spohr that could be chosen for her. We have spoken at length before of her rendering of thee two pieces and need only add that there was nothing to find fault within them last night. She was encored in each. Mr. Dietz played the trumpet obligato in the former piece with his customary excellence. Of the orchestral selections the most important was the ‘Reformation Symphony,’ composed by Mendelssohn in the year 1830, and played on this occasion for the first time in New York. It is now the reigning orchestral favorite in Europe, and Herr Manns created quite a sensation in the London musical world by bringing it out at the Crystal Palace. It was composed for a festival to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, but was unaccountably suppressed at the time. The composer took more interest in this work than probably in any of his other productions, and always looked forward with hope and anxiety to hear it in public. Strange to say, the symphony bloomed into life long after this master mind had ceased to exist. True, it was performed once in Berlin two years after it was composed, but that was only at some obscure concert. It is unaccountable how the surviving relatives of the great composer should keep such a work so long in obscurity. We only hope that they will not treat his remaining unpublished works with like indifference. There is, unfortunately, every reason to suppose that many of the unpublished works of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Schubert are made a source of narrow minded speculation by those to those care they have been entrusted. The ‘Reformation Symphony’ is an undoubted masterpiece in every sense of the word. The choral of the opening andante breathes of the tenderness, poetry and delicacy of sentiment which has bestowed upon Mendelssohn the title of the ‘poet of music.’ There is a dreamy, plaintive character about it which cannot be mistaken as to its origin. After a trumpet flourish which arrests the attention and raises the expectation of the hearer, the movement breaks into an allegro con fuoco, as unlike Mendelssohn as anything can be, and more akin to Schumann. The second movement, a scherzo, is Mendelssohn from beginning to end, and Mendelssohn, too, in his happiest mood. A little waif of melody, catching at once even the most unpractised ear, is woven into a ‘thing of beauty’ which is the quintessence of musical poetry. To describe it would be like analyzing the ever changing forms of the kaleidoscope. A ripple of the wind instruments, a dialogue of the merriest kind, a trill of the flutes, a tremolo of the celli and then a sudden outburst of the entire orchestra form a delightful olla podrida of musical ‘fun and joyous humor’ if we may be allowed to use the expression, such as is rarely heard in an orchestral work. Puck seems to be perched on the conductor’s stand, and the one hundred instruments are his attendant spirits. An overwhelming encore followed the incomparable scherzo. The third movement introduced Martin Luther’s celebrated hymn after a majestic andante opening. ‘A Safe Stronghold’ is one of leading features of the ‘Huguenots,’ and it occupied a prominent position in the ‘Reformation Symphony.’ A single flute gives the first measures of it, and the other instruments joint in it in a quaint and striking manner. It appears again with a Bach or Handel like accompaniment of the violins, and the orchestra is massed to give it full effect in the finale. Regarding orchestral effects with the full power of all the instruments, we do not think that Mendelssohn ever felt this to be his ‘forte.’ He is a musical poet and tenderness and delicacy best become him. He can describe the sun-lighted valley better than the rugged mountain peak over which the thunder storm spends its fury. It is to be hoped that the ‘Reformation Symphony’ will now take a prominent place in the programmes of our musical societies, for it is a gem of rare value. The rest of the programme consisted of Bach’s suite in D, No. 3; Beethoven’s third overture to ‘Leonora,’ or ‘Fidelio’ and the dramatic symphony, ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ second part, by Berlioz. The orchestra comprising the flower of the Philharmonic and other organizations, was ably conducted by Theodore Thomas. On the whole the concert was a delightful treat to all present.”
“The second performance of the grand musical festival held at Steinway Hall was given last night to a large audience. The production of Mendelssohn’s ‘Reformation Symphony’ was the notable feature of the concert, which in every respect was a remarkably good one. This symphony has been so little known that it is almost a musical novelty, although composed in 1830 for the intended celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.
“Having been written for a special purpose it is, perhaps, not strange that it falls below the high average of the great master’s productions. To describe musically the phrases of a religious contest, as Mendelssohn attempted to do in this symphony, is something out of the reach even of a Mendelssohn. Aside, however, from its success in this respect, the symphony has many grand and beautiful passages, which were rendered superbly by the large orchestra under the leadership of Mr. Theodore Thomas.
“The performance of this symphony, as well as of the overture to Beethoven’s ‘Leonora,’ of Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D,’ and of the symphony of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ was entitled to the enthusiastic appreciation with which it was received. In orchestral music New York ranks with the best musical capitals in the world, and under the spirited leadership of Mr. Thomas the hundred instrumentalists who performed last night nobly maintained our city’s reputation.
“The only singer last evening was Madame Parepa-Rosa, who sang two selections, one from Handel’s ‘Samson’ and Spohr’s aria of ‘The Bird and the Maiden.’ It is only necessary to say that she gave these songs with the same perfection of execution and beauty of expression which have been admired in her previous renderings of them here.”
“It has not been our privilege for many years to listen to an entertainment so thoroughly artistic and complete as that of last night—the second of the Festival series. The programme was not long. It had six numbers merely. But each number was interesting, and served as a contrast to that which succeeded it. BACH’S ‘Suite’ in D is not a work which can now be played without considerable ‘backing.’ The ‘gavotte’ is quaint, and was pleasant. It has melody and distinctiveness, but the rest is very wearisome fugue. At all events every one was thankful when it was over. The next piece was vocal ‘Let the Bright Seraphim,’ by Handel. It was rendered by Mme. PAREPA-ROSA, with the trumpet obligato of Mr. DIETZ. It is only fair to mention the gentleman’s name, for the part he had to perform in this unpleasant affair was quite as difficult as that undertaken by the prima donna. HANDEL—as a writer—was always willing to beg applause, or failing, to bully it. This piece, which is nothing without a trumpet, and something less with that instrument, always brings down the house. The trumpet of HANDEL’S time is no longer in the orchestra; but the fact that some one blowing on a piece of brass, and trying to do what HANDEL thought should be done, is sufficient to create a feeling. The effect, nevertheless, is monotonous. We cannot, of course, in our dearth of instruments, cultivate a trumpet, as HANDEL did, for two solos; but we can, at all events, avoid the nonsense of dragging in another instrument, which is simply in unison with the voice. We mean no disrespect to Mr. DIETZ, who played well; but he must have known, or, at all events, ought to have known, that he played one octave below the pitch of the instrument for which the part was written. VERDI has introduced the plan of bearing up the voice in this way’ but HANDEL meant something different, and this difference we must concede to him. Of the singing it is only necessary to say that Mme. PAREPA ROSA followed the cornet, and frequently to the disadvantage of that instrument. This remark applies also to her arts in the ‘second part.’ There, an unhappy creature had an obligato on the flute, and the delightful confusion which ensued can only be hinted at, not described. In these two trumpery airs—each involving a trick to eke out a success—Mme. ROSA was of course encored. Her voice was never better.
“The novelty on the programme in an orchestral way was the Reformation Symphony by MENDELSSON, [sic]—a work written years ago, but uninterred until now. It was composed to celebrate the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. It had its appearance at an obscure and forgotten concert for Berlin, was played at the Crystal Palace in London, and now has the vogue everywhere. The work is strongly built—nervously, perhaps, but still strongly. The first and second movements are beautiful; the third and fourth deal with a well-known theme, and rather faintly. But the whole work is coherent and large. It is, of course, strange, but notwithstanding this fact, it attracted so much attention last night that the second movement was encored. By an emphatic demand encored. The first and second movements are beautiful; the third and fourth fall off in musical interest, but not in absolute spirit. The work is a posthumous one, but one of the few posthumous works which we wish to see preserved.”
“A very fine programme of ‘classical music’ was offered last night for the second performance of the Musical Festival, and it gives us pleasure to record that every piece was executed well, and several things were done very finely. The only vocalist was Madame Rosa, who sang ‘Let the bright Seraphim,’ from Handel’s ‘Samson,’ with an excellent trumpet accompaniment by Mr. Dietz, and Spohr’s sweet and melodious aria ‘The Bird and the Maiden,’ with flute obligato (not clarinet as the bills announced), by Mr. Eben. For the rest of the entertainment we were indebted to a good orchestra, about 100 strong, led by Theodore Thomas. Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D, with which they opened the concert, is one of those fascinating compositions which one cannot even remember without a smile of delight. It is in three movements, an Overture, an Air, and a Gavotte. The first begins rather drily, but grows pretty before it closes. The air is a charming and rather solemn measure for strings only. The gavotte is an irresistible bit of gayety, which carries all hearts away with it. There was a loud demand for its repetition, but in view of the work still before him, Mr. Thomas not unreasonably refused. Think of Bach being encored in a New-York concert room! Well, well: eppur si muovo Mendelssohn’s ‘Reformation Symphony,’ which was played last night for the first time in this city, has been already described in our correspondence from Boston, where it was produced for the first time in America, at the festival just closed. It was written for the intended celebration of the tercentenary of the Augsburg Confession in 1830; but in consequence of the excitement among the Catholics of Germany the celebration was abandoned, and the symphony was not produced until two years later. It was then played in Berlin for the only time during the composer’s life. Mendelssohn would not publish it, and after a repose of 35 years it has only just been brought to life again in the course of the rummaging which is going on among the composer’s manuscript remains. It has been received with great enthusiasm in England; but having heard it three times we cannot think this enthusiasm deserved, nor do we feel that Mendelssohn has done justice to his magnificent subject. His purpose was to describe the conflict between the new and the old faith, and the final triumph of the reformed creed. To do this he took snatches of the melodies of the ancient church, and the grand Lutheran hymn, Ein feste Burg; a struggle goes on between them all through the symphony, and the battle ends at last in the triumph of the Reformers’ choral. In the first movement, an andante and allegro con fuoco, all is yet uncertain and chaotic. The two themes alternate and intermingle with each other, now one predominant and now the other. The idea is admirable, but the execution, rather commonplace. The second movement, an allegro vivace, breaks in upon the drama with a curious effect, and we own ourselves at a loss to know what it means. It is a pastoral scherzo, breathing happiness and peace, beautiful but perhaps rather trivial and was vigorously encored last night, as it also was in Boston. It would have been a boon to the audience if the other movements had been correctly described in the programme. The third is an andante, in which the ecclesiastical spirit comes back to us and the smothered fire of battle is cunningly combined with the enthusiasm of religious aspiration. The fourth movement flows without any break opening very effectively with the Ein feste Burg as a flute solo (this is andante, and not allegro vivace as the programme absurdly calls it), and after a magnificent treatment of the double theme, closing with the grand choral climax. This last part is truly superb, and would have been ample justification for publishing the symphony, even had there been nothing else good in it.
“The Second Part of the entertainment began with an admirable performance of Beethoven’s glorious ‘Leonora’ overture, No. 3, and closed with the second part of the Dramatic Symphony of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ by Hector Berlioz. The portions of the story which this selection aims to illustrate are a romantic soliloquy by Romeo and the festival in the palace of the Capulets. The first portion is almost good. There is a breath of real tenderness and poetry in the lover’s pathetic song—a flute solo with a charming harp and pizzicato accompaniment, but it lacks form and consistency and wanders vaguely about, without reaching any tangible result. The festival opens with spirit, but quickly degenerates into riot. The gayety is not of that hearty yet delicate kind which Gounod has a so charmingly illustrated in treating the same subject; it is a horrible nightmare of furious revels, whirling bacchantes, the bang of the tambourine, the shriek of the fife, the blare of the brazen trumpet; a dream of disorder, an awful reminiscence of vulgar uproar. To send us to bed upon such a composition was little better than cruelty.
“Of the manner in which these various compositions were presented we can speak with warm praises. Mr. Thomas and his musicians did themselves great credit, and we have rarely heard better orchestral performances in New-York. The audience was large and very enthusiastic.”
“New York--…The orchestral performances of the week, under the conductorship of Mr. Theodore Thomas, have been of the most enjoyable kind. On Tuesday evening, among other gems, Mendelssohn’s posthumous work, the much-talked-of ‘Reformation Symphony,’ was superbly rendered. The critics say all sorts of learned things about this work, but in the mean time the people enjoy it, and we think its popularity is destined to be permanent.
“The orchestra nights have been, in our judgment, by far the best nights, but the popular taste runs decidedly toward oratorio music, and particularly toward a combination of oratorio and Parepa.”
“Musical Festival in New York…The 2nd concert took place last evening, with this programme:
Suite No. 3, D…..Bach
Aria, ‘Let the bright seraphim”…..Handel
Mme. Parepa-Rosa (Trumpet obligato, Mr. Dietz)
Reformation Symphony (1830)…..Mendelssohn
Overture, Leonora, No. 3…..Beethoven
Aria, ‘The Bird and the Maiden’…..Spohr
Mme. Rosa (Flute obbligato, Mr. Eben)
2d part of Dramatic Symphony, ‘Romeo & Juliet.’…..Berlioz
The Bach Suite which Mr. Thomas gave us at his 1st Symphony Soiree last October, is very quaint and very charming, and made a most favorable impression; indeed, the audience almost insisted upon encoring the last movement a sprightly Gavotte written in a most fanciful and captivating vein.
“Mme. Parepa was in possession of her full powers this time (if not in the Messiah) and her clear, earnest performance of the Nadel aria brought down such a storm of applause than an encore was a matter of course. She was also recalled in her second selection, Spohr’s ‘Bird and Maiden.’
“Of course public curiosity has been very much excited (in musical circles) with regard to the ‘Reformation Symphony’ and the audience was very attentive while it progressed. My own impression of the work, is that, while it abounds in beautiful passages and effects which are characteristic of the author, it will scarcely add to the renown of Mendelssohn. To me the first movement is the most attractive, inasmuch as it is strong and full or purpose. The 2d movement, although melodious and pretty, seems somewhat tame and weak; this was tumultuously encored. As a whole, the Symphony suffered from coming after the Suite, which unquestionably dwarfed it. The Leonora Overture was better played than any of the orchestra selections, possibly because it is more familiar. The orchestra numbered 80 and was under the very able direction of Mr. Theo. Thomas.”